ROCHESTER, N.Y. — The wait is over.
Robert Morris, in its 10th season at the Division I level, punched its first ticket to the NCAA tournament with a 7-4 victory against Canisius in the Atlantic Hockey Association championship game Saturday night at Blue Cross Arena.
Colonials forward Cody Wydo scored a hat trick and freshman goaltender Dalton Izyk made 27 saves on short rest to lift the fifth-seeded Colonials (19-17-5) past the seventh-seeded Golden Griffins (17-21-3).
“That was a long time coming,” Robert Morris coach Derek Schooley said.
Wydo, who set the Colonials’ new single-season goal record last month, capped a frenzied, eight-goal third period with his third goal of the game and 30th of the season just inside the two-minute mark to seal the victory. He was named the tournament’s most-valuable player.
At the final horn, the Colonials spilled over the boards and into a celebratory dog-pile, leaving their gloves and sticks and helmets strewn across the ice. The Golden Griffins stood, dejected, at their blue line as Robert Morris captain Colin South hoisted the championship trophy.
It was sweet redemption for Schooley, Robert Morris’ head coach since the program’s inception in 2004. The Colonials had been stopped just short of the NCAA tournament twice already, as they suffered overtime defeats in the Central Hockey America conference championship game in both 2007 and 2009.
Late Saturday night, in the recesses of the arena, Schooley relayed a text message he had received earlier in the day from former Colonials forward Ryan Cruthers, a member of the 2007 team.
“I think about those losses every day,” Cruthers wrote. “Let’s not have any regrets.”
Schooley glanced back up and caught his voice again.
“This win was for all of them,” he said.
Schooley and the Colonials, who started the season 2-12-2, will crowd in front of their TV screens at noon today for the NCAA tournament selection show to see their first-round draw.
After a combined 18 goals were scored in the semifinal games Friday, Saturday’s title game opened, mercifully, with a swift, short and scoreless first period. Canisius held a 12-11 edge in shots, but Robert Morris’ next shot that would break the draw.
Wydo, who set the Colonials’ new single-season goal record last month, scored twice, sandwiched around a perfectly placed slap shot by Golden Griffins defenseman Doug Jessey.
The Colonials held a 2-1 lead after two periods Friday, too, before allowing a quick tying goal in the third period and going on to win, 5-4, in overtime.
This third period looked eerily similar early on.
Golden Griffins forward Shane Conacher tied the game 1:33 into the third period, and forward Greg Gibson’s low shot snuck through Capobianco’s pads 15 seconds later.
With 12 minutes left, Robert Morris forward Matt Cope picked up a long rebound and sent it home to give the Colonials a two-goal cushion.
But things were far from over. The teams traded goals twice more before Wydo effectively ended it.
After the game, Izyk, who was considered an emergency fill-in just two weeks ago when starter Terry Shafer went down with a leg injury, was asked how he had handled the pressure.
Schooley intercepted the question.
“He won,” Schooley said, grinning. “He won the whole thing.”
Stephen J. Nesbitt: email@example.com, 412-290-2183 and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.
First Published March 22, 2014 9:42 PM